A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 3^3
The colonel jumped out of the car. He liked to drive
and in his spare time potter about with his car just as he
liked to lead his wing ^ in difficult exercises and in the
evening potter about with the oily engines with the me-
chanics. He usually wore blue overalls, and only his lean,
masterful features and his smart, new peaked cap distin-
guished him from that grimy crew.
Meresyev, still embarrassed, dug the earth with his
stick. The colonel placed his hands on his shoulders and
"Let's have a look at you! Humph, the devil take it!
Nothing particular! I can confess it now. When you came
to us I did not believe, in spite of all that was being said
about you at Army Headquarters. I did not believe that
you could go through a fight. And yet you have! And
how!... That's our Mother Russia! Congratulations! I
congratulate you and admire you. Going to 'Molestown'?
Get in, I'll give you a lift."
The jeep raced along the field road at top speed,
swerving like mad at the bends.
"Tell me, perhaps you are in need of something, hav-
ing difficulties of some kind? Don't hesitate to ask for
assistance, you have deserved it," said the colonel, skil-
fully driving the car through a trackless copse and
between the "molehills", as the airmen had dubbed their
"I don't need anything, Comrade Colonel. I am no
different from anybody else. It would be better if people
forgot that I have no feet," answered Meresyev.
"Yes, you are right. Which is yours? This one?"
The colonel pulled up sharply at the entrance of the
dugout and Meresyev had barely alighted when the car
was already chugging through the wood, winding
between the birches and oaks.
Alexei did not go into the dugout. He lay down on
the woolly, mushroom-scented moss under a brich-tree
and carefully drew Olya's letter from the envelope, A
photograph slipped out and fell on to the grass. Alexei
quickly picked it up, and his heart beat rapidly and
A familiar and yet almost unrecognisable face gazed
at him from the photograph. It was Olya in military